Programming note: This conversation with David Finnigan is different enough in mood that I feel I need to set the scene a little. Everyone I’ve spoken to for this series so far has been someone I know very well. I have assistant directed for John Kachoyan and Suzanne Chaundy and next up will be Sayraphim Lothian and Rob Reid who is directing one of my plays in the new year. The Monash students I had only known for a few days but we were all very drunk and this accelerates things. This was only the second conversation I had ever had with David but I’d been admiring his brain from afar for some time and knew I had to get in a conversation before he disappeared overseas for some months. So imagine us sitting in a tiny, very noisy cafe, preparing to get to know each other with an audio recorder on the table between us. We talked for more than an hour and it was beautiful and personal and revealing and almost entirely too intimate to share. This is from the only twenty minutes of it that I actually recorded. Usually I try to edit myself out of the conversation as much as possible but it felt wrong to let David reveal this alone so there’s a whole lot of me rambling at the end of this. Enjoy. And David, thank you once again, for a beautiful conversation.
Ingredients: Window seats in a cafe over-looking Brunswick street, two cups of peppermint tea and two shy, nervous and excited humans, David Finnigan, writer, producer and pharmacy assistant and myself.
SFB: So why theatre?
David: It helped with social phobias and imposes deadlines. I don’t know how I would have gone writing anything if I hadn’t had theatres booked and casts waiting for scripts. That gives focus. There is something really lovely about sitting in a room and writing for people who are talking back to you. Writing for a group of other people to do stuff with is really liberating. Then there is the selfish factor: when it works, other people take your words and take them further than you ever could. That is great. Then you can slap your name on it again and get the credit.
SFB: Part of the conversation with John and Lou that I didn’t use was John saying (something along the lines of) ‘I find playwrights so fascinating because it is like they’ve decided to be a recluse and then chickened out.’ We’ve chosen the most social form of writing. We aren’t novelists who can lock themselves away in a cabin in a mountain and emerge with a masterpiece. It is about talking to and working with people.
David: Yes. For what I do, perhaps more so than for what you do. I don’t know how you wrote yours the face but I’m guessing that was primarily in isolation. What I usually do is stuff that has some sort of interactivity component and also a science bent. For the last eight or nine years I’ve been working with research scientists, usually from CSIRO – climate scientists, system theorists, game theorists, resilience theorists – building shows that are interactive plays or live games around science concepts. That’s closer to the heart of my practice.
SFB: And what do the arts have to add to that conversation?
David: I feel like I’m doing it because of that lock-in. I presented a table at the Independent Theatre Forum back in ’09 I think. The topic was ‘Why the fuck do you keep going?’ We invited people up to talk about why they persisted in the industry with so little pay and very little respect and no long-term career options in a lot of cases. People had lots of different answers. Some said that it was their responsibility to be the shamans of the tribe or to keep up story-telling practices or variations and some people said that they do it for that moment of transcendence or flow; that beautiful moment that happen every few month or years. But the majority of people said that they did it because they had over-trained in that area and under-trained anywhere else. People have post-grad qualifications in theatre and have spent ten years working in it and they feel they can’t start from scratch. That was by far the most common reason people had for doing theatre. That is a factor for me. I do performance around these topics because that’s what I’m best at.
In the early 90s there was this general consensus on the idea of changing climate. There were the beginnings of an understanding of what might be done. Then the science community got hit sideways by this incredibly sophisticated propaganda assault from the carbon lobby that none of them were prepared for. They were meteorologists who, up until that point, had had no reason to be in the spotlight, being assaulted by these incredibly clever, incredibly well-paid hacks and propagandarists. Twenty-years later they are just beginning to push back against that. As far as I’m concerned, artists have the requisite skills to be able to slide in the gap there; to be able to talk about the future in a way that is meaningful and resonant. So everything I do – the majority of what I do and what I’m interested in – is stuff around the future and what is going to happen to us in the next fifty – a hundred years. I feel like that is a thing worth talking about but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to communicate it. If there is a single theme in everything I’ve done, that’s probably as close as I can come to describing it.
What about you? Do you have an area of interest that you find yourself returning to?
SFB: I don’t know. It has changed. Most recently… I love good words but I sort of struggle to make myself inarticulate. I am very articulate, obviously, but I’m also dyslexic and I get really frustrated when people dismiss others for spelling something wrong and it is particularly lefties on the internet who do it. It drives me nuts to see them – my people, the people I identify with – saying ‘you used the wrong form of ‘your’ and therefore you are a terrible person and the contents of your brain is worthless!’ I love creating characters that an audience will dismiss as dumb or obnoxious. I want people to jump to decisions about them; to form conclusions and then, maybe, come around to see the value of them. Or, like the photographer in yours the face, people will judge him by page two, then get drawn into his mind but by the end they are saying ‘oh no, he is actually a cunt’.
I’m still working on all this. When I started writing that play I wrote the character of Emmy phonetically or – how someone might spell if they were quite illiterate and just sounding out their words. But I didn’t know the accent well enough. It was meant to be Detroit but I started writing her in England and Raimondo (Cortese) said it was like reading Ali G: a Londoner trying to be gangster. That wasn’t what I was going for so I went back to writing her with correct spelling and left it to the actor and director to create the voice. But I am fascinated by playwrights who can do that; who can write beautifully in that colloquial voice in a really unashamed way. In Australia, we get very anxious about appropriating someone else’s voice – the white privilege fear. The danger is that we are all so scared of telling someone else’s story wrong that we only write white, middle class stories.
Please go and have a read of David’s blog. I would particularly suggest you have a look at his entry on the responses to Kids Killing Kids. It is a fascinating look at just how disparate reviewer’s opinions can be. And here he is doing some outstanding poetry.
Thanks to my proof-reader for today, Cat Commander.